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The last stop

Tuesday was the last time the Pike Liberal Arts Patriots baseball team practiced on Butch Austin Field during the 2010 season.

And that is exactly what the team hoped for at the beginning of the season.

The dreams of playing baseball in late April have become a reality and now there is just one final goal left to accomplish.

And as it turns out, that last goal is the most important – win a state championship.

Today, the Patriots will look to win the baseball program’s first ever state title against a baseball program that has 17 state titles in Glenwood.

The only other time the Patriots have been in the championship game was in 1997, and while all the faces may have changed through the years, one has remained the same, head coach Butch Austin.

“I told the guys, this is what we play for,” the coach said Tuesday night.

“This is it, this is our last practice – we have gone as far as we can go.”

Austin and his Patriots enter the game with an AISA best 30-3 record as well as the No. 1 spot in the final AISA rankings and AAA Region 1 crown.

Two of those wins came against the Gators, who was the previous No. 1 team and who finished with a 32-10 record.

“This is what you would expect,” Austin said about the title game. “The two best teams playing for the championship.”

“(Glenwood) is a good team. Our pitchers are going to have to hit their spot and be ready to face some good hitters.

“Our pitchers are going to be the deciding factor,” he added.

On the mound for the Patriots in game one will be the same pitcher that has taken the mound in the previous two game ones in the playoffs – senior Will Starling.

“This is definitely the biggest game of the year,” he said.

“It’s all or nothing and it’s really important to get that first win.”

In his last outing, Starling pitched a complete game, striking out 12 in a win over Macon-East, however he did give up three runs off of nine hits.

“Last week, I had to come from behind a lot, which is something I really don’t want to do.

“(Against Glenwood), I am going to try and throw more strikes and get ahead early in the count. I think after the first pitch, I will get into the game and not be as nervous,” he said.

Starling is not the only Patriot who may be a little nervous heading into the game however.

“I think they all are a little nervous,” Austin said with a smile. “But that can be a good thing.”

Like his fellow senior, Logan Stewart is ready to get out on the field.

“I think we are all ready to go,” Stewart said. “We each know what we have to do to win.”

“We have to hit the ball well and play good defense. Glenwood is a good team and we are going to have to be ready to go.”

While hitting and pitching has been a important factor during the Patriots’ playoff run, defense has also been a big reason why PLAS is playing the state championship game.

One Patriot who may know defense better than the rest is left fielder Evan Strother.

While the sophomore has been seen very rarely at the plate this season, he makes his presence felt almost every game by his defense in the outfield, especially against the Gators.

In both games, Strother has made plays that were big reasons why PLAS was able to come out victorious.

“I just try and go out there and give it all I got,” he said.

“This is the game we have worked the entire off season and season for. They are a good team and have a lot of good hitters, but I think we will be ready to go,” Strother added.

The Patriots will play the first game of a double-header today at Patterson Field in Montgomery at 4 p.m, with the second game against Glenwood starting at 7 p.m.

Should the two teams split the two games, the third and final game of the series will be played Thursday morning at 11 a.m. at Patterson Field.